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Activated Charcoal

Charcoal seems to be the trendy new health product, if the sudden influx of questions, news articles, and Facebook posts about it are any indication. However, the benefits of charcoal have been known for millennium among many . Used for everything from embalming to ship repair, charcoal has proven itself exceptionally valuable. Hippocrates (460-370 B.C.), and the ancient Egyptians employed the use of charcoal for a variety of ailments. Most notably, for it’s ability to rid the body of toxins and impurities.There is a great article on the history of charcoal, complete with ancient uses and other interesting bits of info, HERE.  There is really no sense in me repeating  what they have already stated so thoroughly, especially when we are only focusing on the medicinal aspects of activated charcoal. It’s a good read, though, for those who enjoy that kind of thing.

What is activated charcoal? This is not the same charcoal you throw on your grill, so don’t go grinding up charcoal briquets and eating them. Activated charcoal is made using coconut shells or select types of wood. Coconut shells are the preferred option due to their renewability, and because charcoal made from wood has the potential to cause an allergic reaction in those with sensitivity to certain types of nuts and woods. The charcoal is created through a process of steam, heat and washing. The result is a substance that can adsorb up to 350 times its weight in gases, liquids and toxins.

That is adsorb, not absorb. The difference? When something is absorbed it is taken in and disappears, as with a sponge. When something is adsorbed it works like a magnet, drawing substances to its surface and holding onto them tightly.

Charcoal’s uniqueness lies in the range of substances that it is capable of adsorbing. It has been shown to adsorb toxic gases and chemicals, especially those from opiates, cocain, morphine, nicotine, salicylates, strychnine, antidepressants, venom, poison, and toxic metals. This ability makes it exceptionally valuable in helping cleanse the system from addiction, and helping those with intestinal issues like excessive gas, diarrhea, heartburn and ulcers.  It has been used throughout history for treating gangrenous and cancerous lesions, to lower cholesterol, to cleanse the bowels and bloodstream, and as an antidote to many poisons. It is commonly found in emergency rooms around the world, and is an absolute must-have for every home medicine cabinet. If something a little more scientific and…well, medical-slanted is what it takes to convince you of charcoal’s value, you might check out the National Library of Medicine‘s website. If both the medical and natural world are in agreement on ANY subject, you might wanna take notice!

Take note, though, charcoal will not help with alkaline poisoning from things like lye, alcohol, mineral acids or cyanide. Those require a neutralizer like vinegar or baking soda, and that is an entirely different protocol.

The newest trend for activated charcoal is in the beauty arena, though. Little wonder, since the benefits of charcoal are often seen after a single use. Charcoal draws impurities from the skin, whitens teeth, freshens breath, and reduces blackheads and acne. It can be found in soap, toothpaste, face masques and shampoo. I’ll admit, even I have jumped on the bandwagon. Look at this beautiful charcoal soap I made!

charcoal soap

When purchasing activated charcoal, look for a source that specifies what the charcoal is derived from. Always choose organic, as this ensures it is free from chemical processing which can cause many adverse reactions.

Charcoal is available in three forms: tablets, capsules and powder.

Tablets should be crushed or chewed before swallowing, and are the least effective.

Capsules take time to break down in the digestive system, but are still highly effective.

Powder is the least expensive, most versatile, and most effective way to use charcoal.

A word of caution; it is not selective in the substances it adsorbs. This means that it pulls out the good with the bad. Vitamins, nutrients, amino acids and digestive enzymes are pulled from the body, along with the poisons and toxins. Charcoal should not be taken long-term.

Ways to use activated charcoal vary.

  1. To use as an aid for gastrointestinal issues, 90 minutes before eating, you can either take 1 capsule of charcoal with 20 oz of water, or you can mix 1 tsp of charcoal with 2-4 oz of water and drink it. Don’t worry, it isn’t gritty and there is no taste at all. It is a bit like drinking thick water. Make sure you drink plenty of water over the next few hours. Charcoal will draw moisture for body as it passes through. If you fail to drink enough water, this can lead to constipation. That’s no fun at all. Drink water.

  2. In the home, setting a small bowl in your fridge or pantry will eliminate odors.

  3. To whiten teeth and help eliminate tooth or gum issues, use charcoal twice a week in place of your normal toothpaste. You can either use the dry powder, or you can mix 1 Tbsp powder with 1/4 cup coconut oil and 1 oz of cocoa butter to make your own paste. Dip your toothbrush in the powder, or place a small bit of paste on your toothbrush.  Brush as usual, allowing the charcoal to remain on the teeth for 3-5 minutes. Rinse until the water is clear. Charcoal won’t stain your sink, skin or teeth, but it will stain fabrics.

  4. For bites and stings, mix charcoal powder and ground flax seed with enough boiling water to create a semi-thick paste. Apply the paste, extending it out past the affected area. Cover the paste with plastic. Cover the plastic with a natural-fiber cloth like cotton or wool. Secure it with an ace bandage and leave on 8-10 hours. Wash with lukewarm salt water after removing the poultice. Repeat daily until the area has healed.

So, there you have it. Charcoal is a pretty amazing substance that I suggest keeping on hand. It is easy to find at any drug or health food store. It’s cheap, it’s safe for all ages and, well,  it is kinda fun to play with….if you like that kind of thing….

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